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Did risk of sabotage by locals lead to bizarre anti-tourism decision?

The New Forest National Park Authority has decided not to go ahead with the planned implementation of a 'Boris Bike' style network of hire bikes. Had the project gone ahead it would have been the UK's first rural hire bike system.

In a statement issues this afternoon, the authority said that its 12 members were concerned about the system's financial sustainability and believed that "the likelihood of the system receiving significant sponsorship had markedly reduced since it was originally conceived".

However, earlier this week Graham Bright of B-Cycle, the company retained to implement the scheme, told the Southern Daily Echo that concerns over sponsorship were misguided as any deals to cover ongoing costs would not affect the viability of the scheme.

Bright said: “We have not had an opportunity to engage with members. The things they have mentioned in their reports can be easily addressed.”

It's not known whether Bright was able to address today's meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority.

In its statement, the authority also mentions perhaps the crux of the decision: opposition from some locals. It said that a recent  survey "showed a lack of strong support for the scheme among local residents".

As a result, it said, "there was a real risk that suitable docking station sites would not be supported at key locations, making it difficult to set up a viable network".

Since it's clearly irrelevant whether or not the building of a bike docking station is "supported" or not, the obvious conclusion is that the authority has backed down under the expectation of sabotage of the construction of docking stations.

Cycling events in the New Forest have been sabotaged numerous times in the last few years, with tacks and slurry spread on roads and signage removed.

The authority says it plans to spend the funding intended for teh scheme - part of a £3.57m grant from the Department for Transport - on other local cycling projects, though it's not currently clear that it has the authority to do so.

Here's the authority's statement in full:

New Forest National Park Authority members have voted not to proceed with a project to develop the UK’s first rural public bike system within the New Forest.

This self-service bike hire system would have comprised up to 250 one size fits all bikes for public hire at 20 unmanned locations in the south east of the National Park.

Members were concerned about the financial sustainability of the £2m public bike system. They considered that the likelihood of the system receiving significant sponsorship had markedly reduced since it was originally conceived, given that similar recent schemes in Liverpool and Reading have launched without major sponsors.

Concern was also expressed about the mixed results of a recent community feedback survey, which showed a lack of strong support for the scheme among local residents. Members felt there was a real risk that suitable docking station sites would not be supported at key locations, making it difficult to set up a viable network. The results of the survey are available at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/bikesurvey.

Given the challenging delivery timetable for the project, by March 2015, it was felt there was insufficient time remaining to overcome these issues.

The National Park Authority now intends to support alternative cycling projects with the funding previously allocated for the public bike system.

Members underlined their commitment to supporting responsible family cycling in the National Park, in particular as a key mode of transport for people to get around the Forest for work or pleasure, and as a way to enjoy its special qualities without a car.

National Park Authority Chairman, Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: ‘This would have been an innovative project that had clear benefits to offer those wishing to use bicycles for quiet recreation and travelling around the Forest, rather than using their cars.

‘However as members we have scrutinised it very carefully, and concluded that the risks of setting up the scheme now outweigh the benefits. We felt we simply could not justify spending a considerable amount of government money on a system that might not be able to survive at this time, and which seems to have insufficient support in the key locations of the Forest where it needs to operate from.’

The public bike system was part of the New Forest Family Cycling Experiences programme. The programme is funded by a £3.57m grant from the Department for Transport and  will continue to invest in other local cycling projects through:

  • Supporting Hampshire County Council to deliver infrastructure schemes in and around the National Park this year to improve safety and access for cyclists
  • Funding community groups and businesses to develop their own cycling facilities through the Sustainable Communities Fund. Further details at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/scf.

Minutes of the meeting will be available in due course at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/meetings.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.